CHESHIRE, Mass. — It is well-documented how impressive the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team has been playing recently, though coaches and players alike agreed that Tuesday night's game was a welcomed challenge.
Neighboring Mount Greylock competed with the Hurricanes in a way no other team has as of late. Still, the home team's swarming defense forced too more errors, sustaining its uptempo attack to better the Mounties, 52-37, in a game much different than their first meeting.
"This was good for us, because we haven't been pushed where we have to play 32 minutes in a long time," Wojcik said. "I think it was really good for us, a game like this going into the tournament. Not that we're happy, necessarily, with our overall effort — our shooting or some other things."
Leading 31-19 just more than a minute into the second half, the Hurricanes' (16-1) imposing defense kept the Mounties (11-5) from crossing halfcourt for 23 seconds of the 30-second shot-clock. In the waning seconds, Greylock willed its way upcourt for a shot which led to a Jenna Benzinger rebound, low-post move and layup.
Another Benzinger (12 points) put-back with four minutes, 19 seconds to go in the third period cut the Mount Greylock deficit to eight points. Yet, Hoosac's defensive pressure forced two consecutive traveling violations during a stretch which seemed to stifle the visitor's momentum. Back-to-back buckets by Jenn Gale (game-high 19 points) capitalized on a key stretch of Greylock miscues that ultimately gave the Hurricanes a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game.
"We did a lot of things that we wanted to do," said Mount Greylock coach Paul Barrett, who appreciated his team's improvement over a 19-point loss on Jan. 23. "They played hard. At this point, we gotta prove that we can actually play against them... I think the girls competed."
For a Hoosac team beating opponents handily this season, the prevailing theme coming out of its locker room was that it was challenged in a uniquely positive way.
The Hurricanes entered Tuesday's matchup on a nine-game win streak, beating opponents by an average of 36.2 points per game. Tuesday's 15-point win over the Mounties ties its closest margin of victory this season, a 60-45 final against Wahconah at the Hoosac Holiday Tournament.
Only two other times has Hoosac scored less than 52 points this season, including in its lone loss, a 53-40 defeat at home to Ohio preparatory school Austintown Fitch. The Hurricanes averaged 75.7 points per game in their last six outings.
"This is a good game for us, because it was pretty close," said senior Megan Rodowicz, who finished with 11 points. "We needed this before the tournament to help us get used to Western Mass."
As part of Hoosac's Senior Night celebration, images of Rodowicz and Gale were pinned throughout the arena, including two larger-than-life photographs that hung behind the last row of the bleachers, along with red and white balloons and streamers in honor of the teammates. Woijick introduced the players to the crowd prior to the starting lineup announcements in their final home game of the regular season, recognizing them for their character and commitment to the program. After the game, he expressed the same sentiments.
"When I started coaching here four years ago, I saw them both as freshmen and I knew they were both going to be special players, one from a defensive standpoint, and one from an offensive standpoint. The leadership they showed last year in the tournament has carried over into this season," Wojcik said.
Though Tuesday was scheduled as a home finale, Rodowicz, Gale and the rest of their squad have at least one final home game prior to the postseason. A makeup game will be played Wednesday evening in Cheshire against Mount Everett, due to its cancellation on Jan. 21. Gale is optimistic she will have at least one more opportunity to play in front of her home crowd again after that in tournament play.
"It's very sad that it's one of my last games here, or in my senior year," Gale said. "I'm just hoping to make it last as long as we can."